My Recent Favorite Books



–by Neal Lemery


June is busting out all over, and I’m getting caught up on my yard work somewhat, so it is time for some precious hours for some reading.   Here’s my list of great books I’ve read in the last year that I highly recommend, in no particular order:

  • The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, by Melinda Gates. Well written, thought provoking, and inspiring.
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. An anthropological-psychological book of who we are, where we came from, and where we might be going.
  • The Second Mountain, by David Brooks. I like the first two thirds of this book, which fired me up about building community and reminding me that we are here to love one another and help each other live meaningful lives.
  • The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose, by Oprah Winfrey. Inspiring, motivating, and stimulating.
  • Leadership in Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. A look at four American presidents, their challenges and how they achieved greatness and led the nation through challenging times. There is much in these lessons for today.
  • The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells. Lots of information, and some very challenging predictions with hope.
  • The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, by David Treuer. New historical information and analysis for me, teaching much about where our country goes from here.
  • Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience and the Fight for a Sustainable Future, by Mary Robinson. A thoughtful look at a compelling issue and challenge.
  • Artemis, by Andy Weir, the author of Mars. Science fiction that offers a thoughtful look at who we are, and where we are going as a species and culture.
  • Becoming, by Michelle Obama. A very thoughtful and insightful book about a courageous and talented woman who has much to offer our country. No matter what your politics may be, there are wise lessons to be found in her story.
  • Art Matters, by Neil Gaiman. One of our best fiction writers takes a hard look at the role of art in our culture, and how it changes lives.
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants,by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A native healer, botanist and professor, the author has feet in several worlds as she educates us on the role of plants in our lives, culture, and medicine.
  • Educated, by Tara Westover. A compelling and inspiring memoir of growing up and pulling herself up by her own bootstraps.
  • The Tide: The Science and Stories Behind the Greatest Force on Earth, by Hugh Aldersey-Williams. A British scientist delves into a surprisingly little studied phenomenon.
  • Exit West, by Hamid Mohsin. A fantasy dealing with immigration, refugees, and cultural awareness.  Not one of my usual genres, but I found this engaging and thought provoking; a new way to look at a challenging issue.
  • No god but God: The Ongoing Evolution and Future of Islam, by Reza Aslan. Very thoughtful and informative, and a delightful read.
  • The River of Consciousness, by Oliver Sacks. His last book, offering insights and new ideas, written in his usual compelling way.
  • Edge of Awe: Experiences of the Malheur-Steens Country, edited by Alan L. Contreras. An engaging anthology about one of my favorite places to experience nature and solitude. I’ve just started this, but it is a sensory delight and promises to be a delightful read.  Profits benefit the Friends of Malheur Wildlife Refuge. And, poetry and illustrations by Ursula LeGuin.

A Nice Review for Homegrown Tomatoes

5.0 out of 5 stars

A Homegrown Miracle of a Book—Rhonda Case



What to say about the miracle that is this little book? The author, Neal Lemery, has written a small masterpiece. This collection of short, powerful pieces moved this reader to tears again and again. “Homegrown Tomatoes” has the power to move all readers to new ways of speaking, listening and taking action in our own backyards and communities, as healers and peacemakers.

Something of a soul brother to the philosopher/writer and mystic gardener, Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf school movement and of “biodynamic” gardening) Neal Lemery believes in the inherent goodness and limitless potential of each human he meets. He believes in the power of education and sees that Nature can be our wisest, most gentle teacher and healer.

Lemery’s essays, like the parables of Jesus, are grounded in the most “ordinary” of human experiences: observations of plants and of birds, moments of kindness offered to those who have been marginalized in society, zen-like questions about what we truly value and where we show up with compassion for others.

The most powerful essays are those where Judge Lemery lets us enter his “secret garden” at the OYA. We are privileged to be there with him as he meets the young men incarcerated for juvenile offenses, some of them serving long years in prison.

We’re there as Neal cooks, listens, plays cards, gardens, laughs and cries with these young men. What obstacles they have overcome despite their failures! We are allowed to share his sorrow at how much betrayal and suffering too many children endure. We are privileged to witness how seeds of Hope are still present even in the dark, cold winter soil of these lives that have known too much pain — just waiting for the warmth of kindness and rays of compassion to bring the spirit back to life.

Lemery’s essays inspire us to believe that we too can be transformed if we “tend our garden.” His poetry and prose reminds us that we can allow Life and Beauty to grow around and through our own hands, provided we sharpen and value our “garden tools” (our unique gifts) and this book has reminded me that the time to get started is always NOW.

Highly recommended for teens, teachers, counselors, parents, social workers, gardeners, poets and judges! Would make a great Christmas gift or selection for your Book Group for Spring 2017.

Possibility in the Air



It was Book Day.  I found myself in a college book store, with a young man I’ve been helping a bit, getting him started in college, helping him move along a bit in his life, starting something he’s been dreaming about, something that’s scary, too.


The unknown ahead is always a bit scary.  Something new, untried, unfamiliar.  Even if stepping ahead, out of one’s comfort zone, is a good thing, part of me wants to hold back, be cautious and safe.  There is a bit of doubt, “I am not good enough for that.”


Book Day breaks me out of that old cycle, that rut of thinking that I can’t move forward.  It is a day overcome with newness, of learning, of growing, getting out of my rut.


I wandered around the aisles, looking at shelves bulging with textbooks on every subject in the college catalog.  I have to be careful, or I’d be buying a few for myself.  I always find something in a bookstore that I’d like to read, especially if I don’t get graded on what I read.  But, I could slip in after the bell, find a seat in the back row, and get myself lost in the lecture, taking notes, feeling the juices in my brain flowing with excitement, all the new ideas.


The student was having fun, too, finding his books, filling up his basket with what he was going to be studying this term, enjoying that thrill of a new adventure, new challenges.  I caught him humming a happy tune, as he was perusing a book.  The sparkle in his eyes told me his story today.  He was moving ahead, living his dream.


The best part of book day is that sense of adventure, and discovery.  All the newness of the day:  classes, professors, students, books, and, especially, new ideas.  So many doors to be opened, so much opportunity.


Today, there are no limits, no restrictions on what may lie ahead.


Possibility fills the air, and I breathe it in deeply.


Neal Lemery 9/8/2013

The Curious Place

This is the third place for these books
I have known in this town,
where all are welcome, all are invited in
to explore, to savor
what the world can offer —
All I have to do is come here
and roam.

Quiet on their shelves, letting me discover
the worlds they offer all
who come here;
in the quiet
the embrace of what others have said
about the world, and about life.

Welcome, they murmur, and be curious —
we are always here, until you take us home
and get to really know us,
while you sip your tea, in a comfy chair,
going wherever we can take you.

Everyone comes here, everyone is welcome
to look around, to flip through pages, or maybe
something electronic, or something in pictures,
or music, or to just look at some art,
whatever I want, whatever I desire,
curiosity is the rule here, always curious.

My first grade class walked to the books one spring day
we, all hand in hand, came to look, to hear a story
as we sat on the carpet, going on a trip
by the sound of a voice, and pictures shown all around.

We left that day, each with a book, and each with a card,
the key to come back, again and again, and find another.

And, so, I did, time and again, and again, and again,

finding new treasures, and new things to learn,

and books and knowledge to help me write a paper for school,
and to find out more about what I wanted to know;
to go out in the world and find myself–
me, always hungry now for more, still more.

The books moved across the street, and stayed a long while,
until my hair started to turn gray, and then they moved again,
to still a better place, another block away,
a new place, built just for books and for this town
so more could come, and more could be welcomed here.

This third place is the best yet, a place even for kids
all their own, animals and trees and flowers, and
bright colors everywhere, inviting them in again, and

I’m still a kid here, always wanting to skip up to the door
and wander in, seeing what is new, and what I might like
to take home and read by the fire, a cat on my lap,
a cup of tea, and the world mine to explore.

A big room now filled with people reading, thinking, writing a bit,
and reading some more, even people meeting in small rooms,
to talk, to focus on learning, and being in community
with each other, being stronger to be in the world.

Again, in this curious place,
another library day,
a spring in my step,
again for the first time.

Neal Lemery 3/23/2013.

The Book Giver

“Don’t give me any more books for a while,” my friend said.

We’d been talking about Christmas and his wish list. In the past year, I’d given him about four books to read, books I thought were particularly good for him.

He’s been hard at work taking college classes, and will finish up his associates degree here in a few weeks. Second year college classes have some weighty tomes on their reading list and he’d really prefer a break from academic readings. His bookshelf is groaning with collegiate reading assignments.

I can’t blame him for that reluctance to take on more reading, not the last month of the term. Yet the books I’ve given him are about his passions and the joys he finds in life. His passion is music, and I’ve put several thought provoking treasures in his hands. And, an anthology of “best” American short stories. A little Poe, Hemingway, O. Henry, and Steinbach is good for his young soul, I think.

Books are like that for me, part of the juices that get flowing in me when I get interested in a subject. I want to learn more, and books help me delve into something. Not that I finish every book I pick up. Not hardly.

I’ve been interested in learning more about Islam. And, the book I found about the life of Muhammed and the origins of Islam was pretty interesting. Yet, after about 300 pages, the minutiae of intertribal conflict, theological nuances and socio-economic trends on the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century had started to curb my interest in learning more about the subject. Still, my time was well spent. I didn’t cry when I put the book down and went on to the next in line seeking my attention.

Now, I’m delving into biological, economic, and environmental trends and impacts of the European contact with the Americas, begun by Columbus. I’ve learned about malaria, earthworms, silver, tobacco, and potatoes. The writer has made this potpourri of subjects understandable, and he keeps feeding my curiosity for more.

I’ve never encountered a book store I didn’t enjoy, and I almost always never escape one without at least one book in my hand when I leave. My local library is even a more tempting venue, as the librarian usually chuckles as I haul out an overstuffed grocery sack with even more books to peruse.

Like any self respecting addict of the printed word, I share my passion with others, happily checking off my Christmas list with new found treasures, and some old familiar gems, for my family and friends.

Some folks will groan when they open the tell tale rectangular packages, but, in a few weeks, they tell me how they’re enjoying the book and finding seasonal joy with a good book, a mug of tea, and a comfy chair on a dark, rainy winter’s night.

My young college friend will likely have that same reaction, as I’ve picked a few great short novels and stories for him to savor during his vacation, amid the quiet days before the new year.